OPINION | Bafana Bafana: No trophy, but bigger prize

Bafana may have not won the Afcon but they won something far bigger: the hearts of their fellow countrymen and the admiration of world football

10 February 2024 - 15:10 By Benjamin Leshoro
subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos during the South Africa press conference at Charles Konan Stadium in Yamoussoukro.
Bafana Bafana coach Hugo Broos during the South Africa press conference at Charles Konan Stadium in Yamoussoukro.
Image: Sydney Mahlangu/BackpagePix

It is a known fact that not many people would have given Bafana Bafana a chance of much success at the 2023 edition of the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) in Ivory Coast.

Not many gave them a chance to even get past the group stages, and some even mocked theirs as a pure sightseeing excursion in the west African country.

It goes without saying then that as we reflect on the team's performance at the tournament, many of us should clear our stomachs to accommodate the huge slice of humble pie that they've dished out.

For perspective, Bafana are ranked 11th in Africa. That means there's 10 teams that are statistically better than them at the moment.

Of that 10, eight crashed out of the tournament before South Africa. The two that didn't are those who will contest the final on Sunday evening.

The final will be a battle between the hosts and Nigeria.

That means our national team punched way above their weight to make it to the last four of 24 teams, and may even end in third place should they beat the Democratic Republic of Congo in the third-place playoff on Saturday. A month ago this was unthinkable.

A large chunk of the reasons for this was the poor performances and results of this team. For many, there was nothing to see whenever Bafana played.

But the biggest gripe South Africans had with Bafana Bafana was the perceived apathy and indifference whenever they pulled on that jersey. They were spineless.

For many years they were accused of lacking the fight for the country, the flag, and each other that seems to come so naturally to their rugby counterparts.

And indeed, they lived in the shadow of the Springboks — the back-to-back world champions — for the better part of the last two decades.

I think we can all agree that with this Afcon, this team has distanced themselves from such conversations, and rid themselves of the perennial underachievers tag that rendered them the skunk of South African sport.

Football fans are very fickle and quick to criticise any team and coach if they feel they're not performing up to standard, but likewise credit must be given where it's due.

When Hugo Broos first came to South Africa, there was excitement that finally a coach who'd won Afcon before would lead the national team.

But not long after that, his forthright nature was found to be a bit too sour for this conservative country to swallow. He rubbed everyone up the wrong way. The fans, PSL clubs and coaches, and even the media.

But perhaps that's exactly what we needed. Finally, someone was able to say what many just thought.

One of the things that he made very clear upon arrival was that he's not going to pick players for the national team just because they play in Europe.

If you play there, you need to actually play and not be a benchwarmer. In fact, Broos was one of those who applauded Percy Tau's move from Europe to play for Al Ahly. He had warned him that if he's not playing where he is, he won't play for Bafana.

True to his word, the former Belgian international reached the semifinals of the Nations' Cup with mostly locally based players.

Broos' starting XI in all the matches at Afcon would contain only one overseas-based player in Portuguese-based Siphephelo Sithole.

Even when substituting, only Mihlali Myambela who plays in Cyprus would be from outside the continent. What this has proved is that this is a coach who is not afraid to get fired, but has conviction in his philosophy. Whether it works or not.

Thankfully it did work, and so good were Bafana's performances that we saw something that we haven't seen since the turn of the millennium. The country was behind them.

For the first time in 24 years they were in the semifinals of a major tournament, and for the first time in 24 years the nation was dreaming again.

In the fifth episode of the Arena Sports Show, we are joined by professional footballer Aubrey Ngoma to review the performances of Bafana Bafana in the Africa Cup of Nations (Afcon) where they reached the semifinal.  TimesLIVE reporter MAHLATSE MPHAHLELE joins us from Ivory Coast where he spoke to journalists Mthokozisi Dube of Far Post and Lorenz Köhler of IDiski Times who were impressed by the team's performances.  From soccer and rugby to cricket and netball, experts will dissect the major talking points behind every big match during the exciting new Arena Sports Show. Bold and daring, this weekly web series is hosted by Vision View Sports Radio’s Clauiee Grace Mpanza. #SouthAfrica #News www.timeslive.co.za

They again tickled the boundaries of our imagination, and we felt that our team was back. We again felt the way we did in 1996 when they went all the way. Thanks to the performances of Themba Zwane, Teboho Mokoena and Ronwen Williams, we once more had hope that our time had come.

We could once again name the Bafana Bafana team from goalkeeper to striker. Something that has not always been the case. It was just unfortunate that the boys could not get to the championship match, when they actually deserved to.

They were better than Nigeria on the day, and were unlucky to fall to the lottery of a penalty shoot-out. They will, however, still get the chance to at least get the bronze medal. And they can take heart from that. 

Bafana may have not won the Afcon, but they won something far bigger; the hearts of their fellow countrymen, and the admiration of world football.

They have truly given us the tournament's story of the underdog. If we can build on this, then there's no reason we cannot reclaim our place at the zenith of African football.

subscribe Just R20 for the first month. Support independent journalism by subscribing to our digital news package.
Subscribe now

Would you like to comment on this article?
Sign up (it's quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.